Diet & Fitness

Running blind: 40 sightless runners competing in Boston marathon

April 15, 2013 at 9:47 AM ET

TODAY /
Josh Crary is one of 40 blind and visually impaired athletes running in the Boston Marathon this year.

Updated, 6:52 p.m ET:

Josh Crary, one of the 40 blind runners taking part in the Boston marathon, stopped around the 20-mile mark, after getting a call on his cell phone from his sister telling him of the explosion at the finish line. "We went into a family home nearby after we got the call,"Crary told NBC News. Crary says he was still six miles from the finish line, so he heard no explosion.

Two explosions described as bombs went off near the finish line Monday. At least two people were killed and 23 injured.

Barbara Salisbury, CEO of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind, which had a team of 23 vision-impaired runners in the race, said most were accounted for.

"We are counting noses right now, but so far, so good," she told NBC News. "It's very difficult, as the cellphone networks are clogged."

Salisbury noted that Aaron Scheidies, who was on the MAB's Team with a Vision, had finished the race in his best time ever -- 2hours, 44 minutes and 39 seconds, giving him the 454th place overall in the Marathon.

"Aaron is fine," Salisbury said. "He had an amazing race before this happened."

Salisbury said as soon as the explosions occurred, race officials diverted runners still on the course. Since most of the blind runners were in the final wave of starters, most were still running when the blasts went off.

Original:

Josh Crary may have lost his sight, but he hasn’t lost sight of his goal – to finish the Boston marathon and help raise money to fight the cancer that took his father’s life last year.

“I didn’t finish last year, because of the heat, and I sprained my ankle,” the 27-year-old from Barnstead, N.H., told TODAY.com before Monday’s big race in Boston.

“My goal is to finish – and raise $4,000 for cancer,” he said, referring to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which treated his father.

So far, Crary has $2,500 in pledges from sponsors for his run. He will be one of 40 blind or visually impaired runners registered for this year’s Boston Marathon according to the organizer, the Boston Athletic Association. That is double the number who competed last year.

Kathryn Gabriele, from the Boston suburb of Somerville, along with other runners on her team, seeks to raise over $35,000 for the Perkins School for the Blind, while William Greer of Austin, Texas will be running for a charity group for the blind, Team with a Vision. Greer will run with “celebrity guide” Peter Sagal, host of National Public Radio's "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!" and devoted marathoner.

For Jennifer Herring, of Hamilton, N.J., Monday’s race will be her 18th marathon – she has run both New York and Boston before. The 38-year-old software engineer is also with Team with a Vision, which raises awareness and money for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Herring has some peripheral vision and is able to run without a guide.

But Crary, who was diagnosed with a degenerative retinal condition called Choroideremia at age 14, causing him to permanently go blind at 19, runs tethered to a guide.

That would be Caitlyn Donovan, who works for Access America Sports, a charity that Crary was involved with.

“She had run the Boston marathon before and when I said I was a runner, she offered to run with me,” said Crary, who works in the administration of Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

They run side-by-side, tied at the wrist with a piece of cloth. “It’s usually a cut-off piece of a shirt sleeve,” Crary laughed.

“We are side-by-side, or if there is a big crowd, or a narrow sidewalk, I follow her and the tightened tether guides me,” he said.

Donovan gives him directions and lets him know to pick up his feet if there is a bump in the road.

In a recent interview with the Times of Trenton newspaper, Herring said she trains by running around a pond at the senior home where she lives with her widowed mother.

She told the Times she recognizes the pattern of parked cars on her training runs, and when she encountered a barking dog once, she told it to go home and it obediently did.

The qualifying time for blind runners is five hours, but many of those registered this year have run the 26.2-mile distance in less than three hours.

Last year, 18 of the 20 blind starters finished the race which had a total of 22,485 runners.

Among this year's top blind runners is Aaron Scheidies, of Seattle, who finished last year 368th overall, in a time of two hours, 55 minutes and 53 seconds. The 2012 overall men's winner was Wesley Korir of Kenya in 2:12:40.

Herring, who was the only female blind runner in 2012, had a time of 4:46:14 last year.

The Boston Marathon has led the way in including disabled runners.

This year, there are six participants classified as "mobility impaired," 30 in the wheelchair division and 24 in the handcycle division, according to the BAA web site for the race.

These three groups start the race before the general mass of runners, which this year totals about 28,000.

In order to avoid congestion with so many starters, the able-bodied runners start in three waves of 9,000 runners each. The visually-impaired runners are in the last, third wave.

Crary said he was confident about his guide, since he and Donovan had been on a handful of training runs together.

Last year, he dropped out after 17.3 miles due to the heat and a sprained ankle.

"But this year I'l try to keep up with her -- she's run it in just under five hours."

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